Alliance to boycott Musharraf referendum
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- An alliance of Pakistani political parties has added its voice to condemnation of President General Perves Musharraf's plan to use a referendum to stay in power.
The 15-party Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy -- which includes the country's two main parties -- has said it will boycott any referendum on extending Musharraf's term and accused him of using unconstitutional means to remain in power.
Musharraf announced Friday that voters would be asked next month whether they wanted him to remain in power after the restoration of civilian rule in October. He denounced civilian politicians for years of corruption and said former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif would not be allowed to return to Pakistan to contest the October parliamentary election.
"Musharraf is trying to show that he is indispensable, but he is not," alliance chief Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan told the Associated Press.
"If Musharraf is so keen to become president, he should first resign from the army, wait for two years, and then contest presidential elections according to the constitution," he said.
The miliary leader's referendum plan has already drawn fire from the 54-nation Commonwealth, which suspended Pakistan after Musharraf seized power in October 1999 in a bloodless coup.
In a statement, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon said Musharraf had not mentioned a referendum in the roadmap to democracy he had presented to the organization, made up of Britain and its former colonies.
"While we are awaiting further details, the holding of a referendum on the extension of General Musharraf's term in office would, therefore, not appear to be in keeping with the roadmap announced by him," McKinnon said.
The 54-nation body indicated that next month's plebiscite appeared to be aimed at extending his term of office and that regular elections would be preferable.
"Such a device has also been used in the past by a former military leader in Pakistan to extend his term in office. The Commonwealth would urge the application of established constitutional processes to decide on the election of national democratic institutions."
Army chief General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in July 1977, extended his rule by use of a referendum.
Musharraf did not say how long he wanted to stay in office, but he is widely expected to seek the usual five-year term.
Analysts expect him to win by mobilizing the machinery of state, although the main political parties have declared their opposition to his plan.
The Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy has vowed to stage demonstrations wherever Musharraf holds rallies for his referendum campaign.
Khan, whose alliance includes the parties of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, said it was not up to the military government to decide who could run. "It is the job of political parties," he said.
If the opposition parties manage to keep the turnout low, it could raise questions of legitimacy that could haunt Musharraf throughout his remaining years in office, analysts say.
Furthermore, Pakistani commentators say they believe the opposition generated by the referendum could spill over into the new parliament, souring its dealings with Musharraf even before the members are elected.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker on Friday said U.S. officials "think it is important that Pakistan follows constitutional procedures as it pursues this process, with legality of any particular action such as a referendum to be decided by the courts, if that is required."
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